Wireless internet and wireless printing on two separate networks
November 22, 2009 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I borrow my neighbor's wireless internet, with their permission. Can I set up a separate network for wireless printing in my apartment, and use it simultaneously?

I have a Macbook Pro and a (currently unused) Apple Airport Express, and plan to buy a laser printer. I'd like to keep my current internet arrangement, because it saves me money! I have two questions:

1. Am I going to have any problem running a wireless network for printing that doesn't have any connection to the internet at all?
2. Is there any way I could set this system up to avoid having to switch manually between networks every time I wanted to print, or am I completely misunderstanding the nature of wifi in even asking this? Could I be connected to both networks at once?

Thanks in advance.
posted by game warden to the events rhino to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Your wireless printer will probably attempt to join the same network you're using for internet access, so unless you want to specifically keep other folks from using it (and showing up at your door asking for their documents), there's no particular need for a separate wireless network.

Another option might be to look for a printer with bluetooth capabilities, and connect wirelessly with that rather than wifi. You can also buy bluetooth adapters that plug into the printer's USB port.
posted by jquinby at 7:08 AM on November 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks very much for this: shows how little I know. I had been planning to get a non-wifi-enabled printer and make it wireless using the Airport Express. But if I buy a wireless-enabled printer and know the password to my neighbor's network, which I do, I guess that would amount to the same thing? Awesome. (And no, I don't care about security at the printer end.)

[I had been tearing my hair out looking at Bluetooth options. If you or anyone else can recommend a bluetooth adapter that is a) actually in stock somewhere and b) will definitely work between a Brother printer and a latest-model Macbook Pro I'd be hugely grateful, because I couldn't find one.]
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:16 AM on November 22, 2009

A wifi-enabled printer is probably easier as it is more likely to have drivers which work over a network. I had a non-network HP laser hanging off an Airport Express and it didn't work. I even compiled drivers from gutenprint and fiddled with the PPD files and CUPS, and it didn't work.

Interestingly, though, when I later bought a Time Capsule (which includes an Airport module) and put the printer on that, everything "just worked".
posted by galaksit at 7:26 AM on November 22, 2009

Yes, I've done this. I needed two bits of equipment: one was a "bridge", which took the wireless signal and output it via ethernet. This fed into the second piece of equipment, a normal wireless router. I created my own network on that router. This network was private and I had my printer on it, but it got internet via the bridge.

Everything worked, but I wouldn't totally recommend the setup -- there were too many pieces to go wrong. If the internet suddenly stopped working, I'd have to turn off the bridge and the router and turn them back on in the right order....
posted by wyzewoman at 7:30 AM on November 22, 2009

Ah, on reread: you've got an airport express already. You can use that as your bridge, if you like. But you'll still need a separate router to set up your private network.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2009

Before we had DSL, we only had dialup, but we did have an Airport Express. It worked fine to create a wireless network using my iBook, a printer, and the Airport, which allowed for wireless printing but not internet. You connect the printer to the Airport via USB cable and then set up the network using the utility on your Mac (which will probably start automatically when you plug the Airport Express in to its power source). [We also set up iTunes to play on the stereo that way, also without internet. Of course, it's a much *nicer* thing now that the network also provides internet!] You would, I suppose, have to switch between your new network for printing and you neighbor's for internet.
posted by lysimache at 8:12 AM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: But if I buy a wireless-enabled printer and know the password to my neighbor's network, which I do, I guess that would amount to the same thing? Awesome.

Correct. Either way, you're putting it onto their network.

The wireless printer will either let you configure the access point name, password, and whatnot from the little controls onboard, or via the setup utility widget that will come on the install CD. It joins just like anything other wifi client and (should) show up if you browse for printers. We bought a wireless HP inkjet printer/scanner a couple of months ago and it was very easy to get up and running.

Bridging isn't difficult to set up - I've done that as well to put non-wireless gadgets onto a wifi network. The only caveat (which doesn't really apply here) is that trying to put more than one piece of hardware on the same bridge can sometimes cause issues. I about tore my hair out trying to troubleshoot this before finally reading the details at the dd-wrt website.
posted by jquinby at 8:32 AM on November 22, 2009

Response by poster: All extremely useful answers. Thanks all. Looks like paying a little extra for a wireless-enabled printer is the way to go.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2009

Allowing your neighbor to print to your nice laser printer strikes me as a pretty fair quid pro quo for them letting you use their Internet connection, so I wouldn't bother setting up a private printing-only subnet inside your house. Just get a wireless printer, give it your neighbor's SSID and WPA key, and you should be good to go.

Wifi devices talk to each other directly (they don't route all the traffic via the WAP), so even if your connection to your neighbor's WAP is a little flaky, you should still get decent throughput between your Macbook and your printer.

Bluetooth and 802.11g Wifi tend not to play nice when they're nearby, as they both use the 2.4GHz radio band in different ways and they degrade each other's signals.
posted by flabdablet at 2:44 PM on November 22, 2009

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